This is awkward, but…how’s your present?

Ben Reed —  March 28, 2012 — 4 Comments

Creative Commons user Marc Wathieu, edits mine

It’s “sexy” to talk about your past. Where you’ve been. The grit you’ve experienced. The pain you’ve had to bear. The crazy life you used to live. When you talk about your past, you get looks that say

Wow. You’ve come so far!

OR

Wow. You’ve overcome so much!

OR

Wow. You had a lot of fun!

It’s “sexy” to talk about your future, too. Nobody gets upset when you’re talking about where you’re headed in life. Whether you’re talking about heaven (where there will be no tears or crying or pain) or something a little shorter in focus (your goals and aspirations), these are fun conversations. When you talk about where you’re headed, it’s cast in a bright, positive light. Nobody clams up talking about that!

But your “present”? It’s not so sexy to talk about where you are right now. In fact, it’s quite awkward. And I’m convinced awkward conversations need to be had.*

It’s not cool to say,

“Yeah, I still struggle with ____.”

OR

“I still need help with ______.”

OR

“That thing that we talked about last week…I messed up again.”

The awkward humiliation

It’s humiliating, really. It’s like saying, “I know I told you I was headed to Nashville, but somehow I ended up in St. Louis. You told me to turn left, but I just went right.” Silly, no? Turns out they didn’t listen to directions, look at their map, or heed the signs that said, “Nashville, turn left.” And they did this for 450 miles.

Talking about your present struggles is like swallowing a spoonful of medicine. You know it’s going to help, but it tastes rancid going down.

Talking about your present struggles admits, “I’m not where I need to be,” “I’m not who I appear,” and, “I don’t really know how to get where I want to go.”

The beeline to shame

Where we go wrong when someone begins “talking about their present” is that we make a beeline for shame. Instead of the Prodigal’s father, we play the role of the older brother (Luke 15:28-30). Our arms are crossed and our head swiveling back and forth in judgment. We say things like “How are they going to ever learn?” or “Someone’s got to give them the truth.” or “If they’d only followed God like me” We think it’s our job to convict their hearts with the truth.

When we’re quick to convict, we inadvertently shut down a potentially life-changing moment of confession.

The good news about grace is that grace doesn’t keep a record of how many times you’ve messed up. In fact, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20) Grace celebrates a step in the right direction. Even when it’s followed by two steps backwards.

Grace welcomes home

Grace doesn’t mean that you become a doormat that’s walked on. It means you welcome someone home when they “talk about their present.” More than likely, conviction’s already happened. (hint: that’s why they’re talking with you!) Your role isn’t to convict…you can let the Holy Spirit do that. He’s better at it than you are, anyway. What someone needs, in their moment of taking a step of faith by saying, “I’ve messed up…again” is a “welcome home!” embrace.

Next time someone opens up an awkward conversation by sharing something they’re counting to struggle with, try being full of grace. Try showing them that we serve a God who never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6), even when we’ve followed a stupid decision by a stupid decision. In those moments, you’ll find that truth acts more like a weapon.

Grace is what’s needed, because grace moves the ball forward. Shame throw it backwards.

* catch up with the “this is awkward” series HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ben Reed

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Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.
  • Robert Smith

    If more Christians had this attitude, maybe churches would not be characterized as full of hypocrites.  Thanks, Ben!

  • http://edsslipper.net/ Pierre

    Wouldn’t you say there’s a risk of affirming sin in doing so?
    Encouraging people to declare their struggles is fine – once in a while. But if it’s part of our daily lives, then there will be some people who will make it a competition… (and are we to sin more that grace may increase? :-p )
    So, you’re perfectly right in saying that we shouldn’t be quick to convict. In the same way that when people get to Saint Louis, we shouldn’t give them a brand new set of directions to Nashville from Saint Louis (otherwise they’ll end up in Chicago), and we should listen to how they got to Saint Louis.
    But be careful not to get people to be proud of their sin.

  • http://kathyfannon.blogspot.com Kathy Fannon

    The thing with sharing the present is that it’s vulnerable and can make us feel like we’re opening ourselves up to immediate judgement.

    I had an experience in this a couple of years ago that really changed how I view other people going through their “present”.

    I was going through THE darkest, ugliest time of my entire life. Every Sunday during worship service I spent more time crying than singing. 

    After worship time we have meet-and-greet and one woman, who has sat in front of me for years, came back to me, gave me a hug and asked how I was. The usual, “How are you?”

    Through tears I responded with, “Life sucks and then ya die.” And I truly did wish for death at that point in my life.

    She gasped and said, “OH! You shouldn’t feel like THAT!”

    Well how was I *supposed* to feel? She didn’t know the battle that raged within me.

    I learned that I cannot be honest with her. Still today if I’m having a rough week or battling an issue, as far as she’s concerned my life is perfect and fun and I’m always doing great.

    I also learned that when people are hurting they need others to allow them to be real. (Hence, the name of my health coaching blog.) It doesn’t do either person any good for the hurting, battling, struggling, whatever…to feel as though they have to put on a front for fear of judgement, condemnation or to be told they shouldn’t feel a certain way.

    My friend would’ve done so much for me that day if only she had offered a prayer, or even said she was sorry I was struggling and said she would be praying for me. Instead, I think she felt uncomfortable with my honesty.

  • http://thomasmarkzuniga.com TMZ

    Hit the nail on the head here. Though the past was incredibly difficult to talk about at one time, it’s my present now that’s most difficult to discuss. But yeah, I’m still messed up and struggling today like I was a decade ago. Thanks for this reminder to stay open.